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STATE RANKS POORLY IN KIDS' WELL-BEING

The state moves from 33rd to 32nd in a survey covering dozens of categories.

A new state-by-state comparison of the well-being of children shows Florida stagnating in caring for kids, with slight improvement since the last annual report.

Florida ranks 32nd among states in care of its children, up from 33rd in the past ranking.

Nearly one in five children in Florida lives in poverty, the survey says, and about one out of six children has no health insurance. More than a third are in single-parent families - one of the highest rates in the country.

The 2007 KidsCount survey by the Annie E. Casey Foundation compares states in dozens of categories using latest available state data from 2004 or 2005. Categories include infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancy and percentage of school dropouts.

"It's very frustrating as a child advocate to see that small of a change, when we're a state with so many resources," said Ann Davis, immediate past president of the Healthy Start Coalition, which coordinates services to women and infants.

Davis noted that Florida's 32nd-place ranking in care for children compares to the state's higher ranking in per capita income: No. 20, according to the Commerce Department.

The latest numbers are surfacing as Gov. Charlie Crist and legislators prepare to make deeper cuts in human services and other basic programs to erase a budget shortfall of at least $1-billion.

Crist said he knows of no higher priority than caring for children. But he alluded to tough times ahead.

"We are challenged financially," Crist said.

Child advocates want Crist to demand lawmakers make changes to the KidCare insurance program to expand coverage to more kids in a special session in September. Crist reiterated that he would wait until a consensus emerges from lawmakers.

The survey numbers were publicized by the Children's Campaign, a statewide advocacy group that lobbies the state Legislature to spend more money on programs for children. The group urged Crist to spare children's services from the next round of cuts.

Florida tied three other states to rank 46th in percentage of children under age 17 with no health insurance (16 percent of children), behind every other southeastern state. Only Texas ranked lower in that category.

The figures show Florida has improved in a number of areas since 2001, but other states have improved more.

Two areas where Florida showed progress are the number of school dropouts, which has declined from 12 percent in 2000 to 8 percent in 2005, and the number of teen births, from 51 per 1,000 births in 2000 to 42 per 1,000 births in 2004.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

FAST FACTS

On the Web

The survey is online at www.kidscount.org/2007databook. The username is "2007databook"; the pass code is "family."

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